Cardiff Sinfonietta with Emilio Aversano
Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Saturday 15th December
Mozart K. 488 Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, Schubert Wanderer Fantasy arr. Liszt, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat Minor
Three of the most popular works in the repertoire featured at Cardiff Sinfonietta’s December concert at the Royal Welsh College. By degrees, Emilio Aversano became more energetic as he interacted with the varying orchestra. But developing an original approach to these particular pieces is a difficult task.
After all, there are few piano concertos performed and recorded more than Mozart’s 23rd. One of his final contributions to the celebrated genre, K. 488 is an important example of Mozart’s extraordinary ability to work within the constraints of the classical age whilst pushing at their boundaries for the benefit of his successors. It must therefore be played with both the poise of Figaro and the ambition of Don Giovanni.
Considering this, the tempo of the first movement was too cautious. Mozart’s allegros should be bold in their speed, not tentative. The cadenza was an improvement in this regard, though, as Aversano’s light touch glided up and down the piano at a more respectable speed. The orchestral crescendos could have been more impactful had they been larger and more sustained.
The adagio, on the other hand, was performed at a lovely pace. It was graceful and tender as it should have been. Played well, this movement enchants and seduces spectators into an emotional world rarely reached before the 19th century. Its pull is only made more potent when Mozart shifts from minor to major, and introduces the clarinet arpeggios. In this case, the swells were subtle – subtle enough to completely blend into the rest of the movement, which is ideal. Adequate space was given for the softer piano passages, which is vital, as the orchestra eased into the reprise.
Again, the third movement lacked the bold hedonism we associate with Mozart. It was fairly quick, but not quick enough – not allegro assai, as it is marked. The tempi changes were too abrupt, and some parts deserved more prominence than they were given. The bassoon’s semiquaver passages suffered as a result. Aversano could also have afforded more volume on the repeats.
The Wanderer Fantasy began sharply, with some well-handled crescendos of an alternative kind to the Mozart. This was a different sound world: a more expansive harmonic landscape. But in the process, some things were lost. The ensemble could have allowed more room for the solo cellist in the first movement, as they did for the oboe. And Aversano was a little hasty during the orchestral stabs.
In a strong adagio, the Sinfonietta demonstrated their command of relative dynamics. This invigorated their relationship with Aversano, who played an impressive introduction, making way for the ensemble who entered very softly at first. The solo cellist was more audible this time.
In the third and fourth movements, Aversano at last began to look alive. He performed with far more energy, and played some imitative passages with the clarinettist that really stood out. Again, Aversano and the Sinfonietta ran into problems when it came to stopping passages simultaneously, betraying a lack of practice together. But the builds were powerful, and laid a solid foundation for the performance of the next piece.
Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto should always be a joy to hear, and Cardiff Sinfonietta gave quite a good rendering. Aversano was in his element, even more animated than before. Again, he could have afforded to be louder in certain sections, especially in the first movement. Nevertheless, the dynamics changes were effective, and he played smoothly into the cadenza. The cadenza itself was a pleasure to witness.
The andantino was generally well paced, with a soft overall approach. Unfortunately, the strings were problematic. Whilst the pizzicato passages were pleasing, their first bowings needed to be lighter. This was improved by the solo cellist, who played with delightful phrasing showing a strong grasp of the music. The finale was impressive, but not fast enough. What’s more, the syncopation was mishandled and hesitant.
Overall, the Tchaikovsky impressed, albeit with leisurely tempi choices. It was a shame that Aversano took a while to warm up, but this didn’t affect the previous two pieces too much. It will be exciting to see the repertoire that Cardiff Sinfonietta tackle next.